Enchanted Parks 2018 the Artist edition…..celebrating outdoor art and hidden stories with Helen Yates!

We’ve been blessed across the North this year for outdoor festive events – you could literally attend something lush and magical every day and night. When you’re attending you might forget that these events are only possible thanks to a mega team of creatives; a project team and a whole lot of blood, sweat and tears that make such events happen. Since I’ve started working on outdoor events as The Culture Vulture, I’ve gained a whole new appreciation for these people and all the artists/creatives involved.

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The Finders Keepers at Enchanted Parks, Theatre Space NE (Photo: Rich Kenworthy)

I recently attended this year’s Enchanted Parks at Saltwell Park; Enchanted Parks is an outdoor after dark arts adventure around the park with light installations, sound, performance – all based around a theme. This year the theme was The House of Lost and Found – the story of a mysterious travelling circus that collects lost things and reunites them with their owners. You can get a sense of this year via this year’s professional photos from local (and bliddy amazing) photographer Rich Kenworthy.

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Enchanted Parks 2018 Photo: Rich Kenworthy

In my opinion, it was a great year and I loved all of the installations – quite different than previous and pushing the boundaries! A firm favourite of mine was an installation called ‘Precious and Found’ by Helen Yates – Burning Light Arts. Helen’s installation consisted of hanging in the branches of the Cherry Tree Walk in Saltwell Park, a series of birdcages hosting a fascinating array of curiosities, each with a story to tell.

I became really curious about what it’s like to be behind the scenes, working on this type of event and the artist experience! How scary mary, but also lush to have your artwork out there for all to see – night after night! So I decided to reach out to Helen Yates for the artist perspective – to find out more about her piece, how she came to be a part of this year’s Enchanted Parks and of course, her Enchanted Parks experience as an artist!

So step forward Helen Yates, one of this year’s Enchanted Parks’ artists!

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Precious and Found by Helen Yates at Enchanted Parks 2018 (Photo:Rich Kenworthy)

Hi Helen, thank you so much for allowing me to interview you – so let’s start at the beginning for my Culture Vultures; tell me about you? Who are you?

Who am I? Strangely enough I made a piece a number of years ago with that very title, a textured, wax wall piece that incorporated the phrase in as many languages as I could track down. Some languages don’t even have the words to be able to ask the question!

Me? Well…… I have had a number of labels over the years: artist, lead artist, educator, lecturer, project manager, workshop leader, schools’ artist….I reckon my most enduring labels have been mother and artist.

Can you describe your arts practice?

I am one of those people that loves to gather new skills, materials and processes; so my work varies. I feel I have succeeded whatever the piece is, if I can create a response, a need to touch or discover more. Site specific installation tends to be my preferred way of working at the moment. I want to make work that fits the people and place that it is intended for and introduce some elements of hidden stories and thoughts for people to question. Temporary installations are great because people and places change, so I like that the work doesn’t feel static.

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The Lost and Found Tree, Dave Young at Enchanted Parks 2018. Photo: Rich Kenworthy

I ask every artist I interview this question….what was your journey into the arts?

From a very young age, I loved to read and draw. My mum would order me outside to ‘get some fresh air’ when she thought I had stayed in my room to long…. I would take my books and pencils outside and sit until I went numb with cold.

Throughout my life I have drawn, made and created things. My journey wasn’t as typical as most but I was always determined to go to college and university to ‘prove I was a creative’, so just after my son was born I did. I gained my degree and 2 daughters along the way! From there I hounded my local arts officers and officially became an artist. Three children and tight finances led to diversifying into college teaching and from there into arts development whilst still working as an artist.

What inspires your practice?

There are probably three things that have been extremely influential in shaping what I do. The first was at Uni; I obsessively drew and painted large scale nude figures in empty spaces – I wanted to portray being ‘human’. Secondly, when asked why I never incorporated objects or clothes, my response was that these things labelled people, put them in categories, people made assumptions. The more I thought about it, it led me to thinking about the power of objects and how we respond to them. I have always loved history, so archaeology and how objects are used to build pictures of long gone people become the overriding theme in my work…. Objects ruled! The third event was my visit to the Tate modern some years ago and seeing Cornelia Parkers Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View – she exploded a shed and its collection of objects into thousands of pieces and then reconstructed them in mid-air, creating a still, quiet and beautiful moment in time from a noisy, destructive moment in time. I saw how installations transformed and created their own spaces and this idea has stayed firmly in my mind.

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Cornelia Parkers Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View

Can’t believe I’d forgotten about Cornelia’s piece – went to see it at the Tate and WOW! But back to you….You had an installation at this year’s Enchanted Parks – how did that come about?

I came across the opportunity and loved the theme…. The idea of storytelling and lost objects immediately caught my attention. I have collaborated with storytellers on previous projects; I feel it’s a wonderful way of creating a new link between the work and audience. It invites people into thinking about an objects past, its meaning and the people that owned it. I want my work to engage children as well as adults so this commission had the possibility to do all of that. So I applied and I am extremely glad to say I was asked to create my proposal for the Cherry Tree walk at Saltwell Park.

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Precious and Found by Helen Yates at Enchanted Parks 2018 (Photo:Rich Kenworthy)

What was the inspiration behind the piece?

The overriding theme of the commissions for Enchanted Parks 2018 was put forward within the brief and some images were sent within this to visualise these ideas. Within this was an image of a contortionist who had squeezed into a birdcage, it was a very striking image, if a little sinister! From here I wondered where Peter Chavalier (travelling circus leader) might store all his found objects on his travels and birdcages seemed very portable and just the kind of thing he might use to keep the found objects safe. They also seemed an excellent way of lighting and displaying the Precious and Found objects.

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Helen during the rigging process for Enchanted Parks 2018

How did you chose what items went inside the cages? Loved the Octopus and it was a firm favourite for visitors!

Thank you! The items were inspired by my research into what items have ended up in lost property offices around the world and it seems some very unusual items have been found, including an octopus on the London underground – probably not as big as the one in Precious and Found… but you never know! Can you begin to imagine though how anyone can lose a bag of skulls, a prosthetic leg or a missile guidance system? Of course others are more usual, the teddy bear and the puffer fish (well maybe not!!).

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Precious and Found by Helen Yates at Enchanted Parks 2018 (Photo:Rich Kenworthy)

What does it feel like having families and culture vultures seeing your work every night and engaging so positively with it?

It makes me smile, even when I saw a toddler vigorously tugging at the octopuses leg one half of me was worrying that the leg would stay on, the other was chuckling and loving the intense concern that the child had, wanting to free a foam and latex, pink octopus..… I love the interaction…. It’s why I do it.

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Precious and Found by Helen Yates at Enchanted Parks 2018 (Photo:Rich Kenworthy)

What did you think of this year’s Enchanted Parks theme?

Excellent! It has given rise to a lot of varied and excellent work. I feel the way the theme has been created is extremely creative in itself …. Well done Enchanted Parks!

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The Little Legionnaires of Lost and Found Studio McGuire at Enchanted Parks 2018 – Photo: Rich Kenworthy

I recently found a story about a day in the life of a chicken written by a 6 year old me – it’s so lush and pure; I don’t remember being obsessed with chickens but apparently I was a big chicken fan as a mini….have you ever found something that you thought you’d lost forever?

That’s a lovely story….chickens make excellent children’s characters! Unfortunately my response is not so lovely. After a brain injury some years ago, I lost the ability to walk, communicate and draw even a simple circle! Over the following years I found all these things again.  Words can’t explain my relief at knowing they were not lost forever.

The Little Legionnaires of Lost and Found Studio McGuire at Enchanted Parks 2018 – Photo: Rich Kenworthy

They say that the brain never really forgets – it’s just the path to remembering which is damaged. Whilst all the pieces are fantastic this year – do you have one that stands out and you’d say is one of your faves?

Can I cheat and chose two? I love And Now’s piece with its carousels and fire garden and the lost and found labels hung by the visitors are a treat to read. Whilst that piece is beautiful low tech, I also love The Mcguires’ Studio pieces, The Little Legionnaires, I love the mix of tech wizardry and the beautifully constructed 3D elements that make up their enchanting illusions.

Merry Glow Round, And Now at Enchanted Parks 2018. Photo: Rich Kenworthy

Now EP is done and dusted – do you have a bit of down time? Christmas plans?

Not yet, I have workshops in schools immediately after the de installation, after that hopefully a mince-pie and brandy or two might be in order!

Looking back across the year, tell me about a highlight for you/your practice in 2018?

2018 has been a good year for work – I have been kept busy and produced work that I have enjoyed creating so I can’t ask for more. Of course Enchanted Parks has been my highlight, great people, great place, met lots of interesting artists from around the country, excellent food (think I’ve put on half a stone!) all in all a very lovely and interesting opportunity.

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Nova by Studio Vertigo at Enchanted Parks 2018. Photo: Rich Kenworthy

What is on the horizon for you 2019?

I enjoy collaborating with other artists, especially when they bring very different skills to the mix, so I have a couple of ideas in the pipeline…..watch this space!

Well thank you Helen! Such an interesting insight into being a part of Enchanted Parks and it’s been lush to hear about the artist experience. Really looking forward to seeing how Helen’s 2019 unfolds….

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Precious and Found by Helen Yates at Enchanted Parks 2018 (Photo:Rich Kenworthy)

Promise not to leave it soon long Culture Vultures!